West Virginians Reluctantly Leave State for Economic Reasons

Many West Virginians must leave the state to find work, but they long for home.
May 23, 2006, 5am PDT | maryereynolds
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West Virginia has the second smallest population growth of any state, according to 2005 Census Bureau estimates. The state has struggled to hold on to residents since the early 1950s, when layoffs in the coal industry forced West Virginians to move to other states for work. It has the oldest median population in the U.S.

Government officials have tried to get young people to stay and to attract newcomers and investment. In 2001, the state set aside $30 million to guarantee full in-state tuition to students who met grade-point standards and other testing requirements. Some state highway signs have changed from "Wild and Wonderful" to "Open for Business."

Irene McKinney, West Virginia's poet laureate, says negative stereotypes led natives both to leave and to return: "these stereotypes lead many West Virginians to be defensive about their state, which contributes to an us-against-the-world sense of identity. We're like hound dogs. We want to roam, but we feel guilty and lost if we stray."

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Published on Sunday, May 21, 2006 in The New York Times
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